If there is any silver lining to the last few days it’s that we play again so soon and therefore don’t have as much time to wallow in the wake of the Stamford Bridge debacle.
It’s Swansea tonight in a game which is obviously hugely important. Much more than it should be, I suppose, because we need to see this team provide a reaction to the weekend disaster. I suspect we’re likely to see some changes, some of them enforced. As news that Laurent Koscielny’s calf injury is set to rule him out for at least 2 weeks, Hector Bellerin has been called up to the squad to provide some defensive cover.
Both Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are available after the FA upheld Arsenal’s appeal against both the incorrect sending off and the red card itself. As yet there’s been no further explanation from the officials as to how it happened and given that Andre Marriner has been selected to officiate a game this weekend it suggests that they’re content to give in to the appeal and hope it all goes away.
Is it worth pursuing from an Arsenal point of view? Probably not, but I can’t be alone in being really curious as to how the referee came to his decision and the process which led to the sending off and the red card. I suspect, however, that this is one we’re not going to hear a great more about, and in the overall context of the season it doesn’t really matter now.
In terms of tonight’s line-up you have to think that Mathieu Flamini will come into the team while the manager’s reported frustration with Olivier Giroud might hand a start up front to Yaya Sanogo. It wouldn’t surprise me either to see someone like Serge Gnabry get a game either, bearing in mind he played a significant part in our win against Swansea earlier in the season.
The reality is, however, that injuries to key players mean he can’t ‘rotate’ anywhere near as much as he might like. There’ll be certain players whose ‘reward’ for Saturday is a place on the bench, for some of the others – who also underperformed – he’s got little choice but to pick them and demand better.
After the media silence in the immediate aftermath of the game, we heard from both Mikel Arteta and Arsene Wenger yesterday. While I’d have been happy enough to hear nothing, we have to bear in mind there reasons why these quotes were made available. Arteta wants to put things right:
It hurts deeply inside. It’s embarrassing to be on a football pitch in that situation. I promise everyone that we have that hunger to put it right. On Tuesday we have an opportunity again at home and we just need to bounce back.
Which is fine, there’s no real need to get bent out of shape over some harmless quotes, as frustrating as it might be to hear them. It’s not the quotes that are the problem, and the team have to respond tonight on the pitch.
The manager’s quotes don’t stand up to a great deal of scrutiny though. He said:
An accident has happened, that doesn’t mean that you’re not a good driver. It just means that we have played about 40 games this season and it’s not what happened on Saturday that reflects the quality of this team.
And look, I get what he’s trying to say, the season in general has been far more positive than negative, but it’s not as if this is our first accident. We got sideswiped at City, ran a red light at Anfield, and at Stamford Bridge we ploughed through a pedestrian crossing and ran over a group of terrified orphans who were about to start a new life with a kindly family who would give them Pop Tarts and xBoxes and stuff.
But, it’s important to realise that those quotes are for public consumption and what he said in private is likely to have been a lot different. He won’t have dismissed things as easily to the players themselves, and I doubt anyone – manager, players or coaching staff – can in good faith genuinely think what happened against Chelsea was just an accident.
Indeed, what Arteta said gives you a better idea of what the feeling is. If you want to write it off as post-game platitudes, fine, but when he says it was ‘unacceptable’ and ‘not good enough for this football club’, I tend to believe him. He’s got no need to shape things to any agenda, and as a professional it will have been hurtful to get spanked that like, especially by a team like Chelsea.
There’s obviously a need to examine the events of this season in much greater detail, both the good times and the bad, but especially the days when things went horribly, horribly wrong. No professional, player or manager, can just casually dismiss it as a freak occurrence after it happens three times, so hopefully, behind the scenes, there’s a lot more going on than the public utterances from the manager suggest.
Maybe tonight’s team will be a better indication of what he’s really thinking, even if he is restricted by the lack of options. What he wouldn’t give to have Ozil, Ramsey and Wilshere available again, but even so I think he’s got to send some kind of message via his selection later on.
Most importantly, however, regardless of what the manager does, the team have to respond by performing the way we know they can. The failure at Stamford Bridge is a collective one, and too many of the players on Saturday played well below the level expected at this football club. The minute the whistle blows, they’re the ones who have to put things right in terms of the performances – individually and as a collective – because any repeat of what we saw at Stamford Bridge will be hugely costly. You don’t need to be Chelsea to take advantage of a team that plays as badly as that.
A win tonight, for all the misery of the last few days, puts us within 4 points of the top the table. It’s difficult to step back and see that in context with everything still so fresh in the memory, but fingers crossed we get the requisite response later on, then we can start thinking about what’s going to happen this weekend.
If you fancy re-living some of the analysis of the last few days, why not check out this week’s Arsecast Extra where myself and James are joined by none other than Ian Wright who gives his insight to how the team should deal with the Chelsea result, and much more. Click here to listen.
Finally, there will be live blog coverage later, but only of the second half. I’ll post details of it on Twitter or you can bookmark the default live blog page and as soon as possible, updates will begin.